DoD to roll out 'New Beginnings' performance appraisal system

This story was originally published May 14, 2015, at 1:41 p.m. EST.

The Defense Department will begin rolling out a new three-tiered performance appraisal system for all civilian employees starting in April 2016.

The "New Beginnings" appraisal system will consist of three tiers — workers will be rated as outstanding, fully successful or unacceptable — and will be uniform across almost all of DoD. The appraisals will be closely tied in to specific component missions and will figure into performance awards such as bonuses.

The appraisal system will be rolled out first to a small selection of installations and facilities and will gradually be expanded across all of DoD's 750,000 civilian employees over the next few years, according to members of the working group crafting the system.

Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cdr. Nate Christensen said it is not yet clear how the department will get the system up and running.

"We are working hard on finalizing how the department will implement the New Beginnings appraisal system next year, but no final decisions have been made, and we have nothing to announce at this time," Christensen said. "We continue to work in positive partnership with the national unions as we develop policy and tools on the new system."

Members of Congress are eager for the new system to get underway. The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, urges the Defense Department to implement the system quickly as well as provide adequate training for managers, employees and executives to help make sure the new system is fair.

"It is the sense of Congress that the Secretary of Defense should proceed with the collaborative work with employee representatives on the ''New Beginnings'' performance management and workforce incentive system and begin implementation of the new system at the earliest possible date," according to the legislation.

But the new appraisal system is also the leading edge of an effort to transform the culture of the Defense Department into a collaborative environment between employees and managers. The new system encourages active, year-round dialogue and greater participation by employees.

Ideally it will build an ongoing dialogue between the employee and manager, giving both the feedback they need and making sure employee knows their concerns are heard and their training needs are met, according to Pete Randazzo, who represents the National Federation of Federal Employees on the working group crafting the system.

The result? A happier, more productive and more engaged workforce, Randazzo said.

"I think the return on investment is going to be a big advantage. It will help with succession planning, make for better attrition rates and result in improvements in services. Planes will get fixed faster and submarines will get launched quicker," he said.

Employees and managers should have begun receiving some training materials, and as the system expands across the agency there will be more guidance, Randazzo said. Employees and managers will both get the tools and training they need to make the new system a success.

For example, employees will eventually get a guidance sheet with useful tips and tools on engaging their managers in productive dialogues, getting the most out of performance reviews and how to keep conversations about performance ongoing.

Paul O'Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council at the Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, said the standardized system will ensure performance review equality acro entire Defense Department.

He said the Defense Department is committed to funding the training needed to help make the new system succeed, and is helping to spearhead a culture change toward greater openness between employees and managers.

"DoD has invested a lot of energy, a lot of time and a lot of money to help put us in the situation where we can help transform the federal sector," O'Connor said.

But ultimately the new review system will allow employees to be a bigger part of the system and to give their managers feedback about their career goals, ideas and training needs – but only if they take the opportunity, he said.

"We aren't a creating a system here so the employees can sit back and be treated better. It optimizes the ability for employees to take greater control of their destiny, and the future of their career. This is all about empowering the employee"

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